Combating Meth in Medicine Hat

The numbers look alarming: Statistics from ALERT’s organized crime and gang team in Medicine Hat show a nearly tenfold increase in the amount of methamphetamine seized each year from 2015 to 2017.

But, according to Staff Sgt. Cory Both, it’s not bad news. In fact, it’s an aggressive enforcement response to a trend that police noticed was escalating in the southeast Alberta city three years ago.

“It’s not that there’s more methamphetamine here than anywhere else; that’s not the case,” Both says. “It’s just that, when methamphetamine showed up on the scene, we made a concerted effort over the last [three] years to attack it.”

Targeting methamphetamines isn’t only about arresting dealers and keeping drugs out of the hands of users, though – it’s an issue of overall community safety. Both points out that methamphetamine use is a primary contributor to other crimes, including firearms offences and property crimes.

Over the same time period, Both notes there has been a noticeable increase in the presence of firearms, and that poses a major problem for investigators: “There’s the unpredictability and volatility of people who are on methamphetamine, and now the fact that they are obtaining firearms and using firearms in their daily business … for our patrol members particularly, it’s a different ballgame out there.”

Meanwhile, drug users are likely to commit property crimes, including breaking into homes and vehicles throughout the community to steal goods that they can pawn to get money to buy their next hit. “Anecdotally, we know that almost 100 per cent of the [break-and-enters] and property offences we see locally are tied to those involved in the drug community, and specifically in the methamphetamine trade,” Both says.

ALERT teamed up with the Medicine Hat Police Service in September 2017 for Operation Suppression, which focused on applying pressure to street-level drug traffickers and curbing property crime in the city. In total, 20 people were arrested and charged with drug-related offences, while 29 people faced charges relating to stolen property.

Such cooperation between law enforcement agencies is “absolutely necessary,” Both says, both with local police and with police in other areas of the province. “To be able to extend past our municipal borders and into other communities is an absolute key,” he says. “We have to follow the supply lines and take out the dealers at their bases of operation.”

In December 2017, ALERT investigators made a record seizure of methamphetamine for Medicine Hat, seizing just over a kilogram of the drug from a vehicle as it entered city limits along Highway 3. Adding in 226 grams of cocaine that was also found in the vehicle, the value of the drugs seized was estimated at $125,000.

“That was a textbook investigation, the way ALERT was designed to work,” Both says. “We started off at the street level, the bottom tier; we identified the hierarchy, the structure of the group; and we worked our way up to the top tier, the supplier. We got some lucky bounces, but ultimately we got the results we wanted in an expedited fashion.”

And while he and his team are proud when they look back on how that particular investigation played out, Both says it motivates them to look ahead at the work that still needs to be done.

“These guys love what they do,” he says, “and when they get something like that, it validates their enthusiasm and passion for the job. It solidifies in their minds that the ALERT concept works and they’re able to get the job done.”